Album Review: Amanda Brown - 'Eight Guitars'

3 March 2023 | 9:40 am | Staff Writer

"It’s impeccable songwriting. And it’s worth a Sunday afternoon listen… or two."

Back in 2020, as musicians and members from all corners of the entertainment industry watched helplessly as their jobs slowly rolled to a halt, Sydney solo artist and acclaimed screen composer Amanda Brown began, for the first time in her several decades-long career, toying with the idea of putting out her debut solo record. It had been 33 years since the release of The Go-Betweens' iconic album 16 Lovers Lane (the final Go-Betweens record Brown would appear on), several years since touring the world as a member of R.E.M. and years since breaking into the film industry as a screen composer. With the overwhelming sense of insecurity that held back the solo release for years beginning to dwindle, 2023 seemed the right time to produce her first solo body of work.

Although the album was originally brought to fruition at the height of a pandemic, it manages to navigate the well-worn terrain of previous "pandemic albums" with ease, addressing familiar themes of freedom, loss and life while always avoiding the obvious cliches of an album made in lockdown.

Twenty years in the making, Eight Guitars marks a significant milestone in Brown's ex-Go Betweens career. And while the album is far from her first release outside of The Go-Betweens (having teamed up with longstanding drummer Lindy Morrison to form the project Cleopatra Wong, who released two EPs in the early-‘90s after the demise of TGB), it seems inconceivable to believe that this is her first solo record.

Having previously lived in the lyrical shadow of Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, two immensely capable songwriters who were known for their lyrics, Brown has never been afforded the true freedom to showcase her abilities as a solo songwriter until now. Obvious comparisons to both McLennan and Forster can be seen dotted throughout Eight Guitars (impossible to avoid when living within the orbit of The Go-Betweens for so long), but it’s artists like Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Karen Carpenter whose influence seems more heavily ingrained within the record's grooves. 

Opening track Freedom Song (which features guitar lines from Kirin J Callinan) was originally created in 2003 for Floodhouse, an Australian independent film detailing the life of a Mara, who leaves a dysfunctional bohemian family behind for a future yet-to-be-determined. The oldest song on the record, Freedom Song, is about the universal desire to be free and instantly sets the tone for the album at large.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Tracks like Lost In The Wilderness and Light Lingers On could just have easily been written at the height of lockdown, with lines like “And we drink, We drink to forget, All the things, We haven’t done yet” and “Every day’s the same to me”, drawing eerily perfect parallels to pandemic scenarios. 

But the delicate, almost poetic nature of Brown’s lyrics combined with the melancholic, alt-country-tinged indie pop that's scattered across the record hints at something far deeper. On Eight Guitars, Amanda Brown isn’t recounting fleeting stories from her time trapped inside. Instead, she’s putting forward far greater fables from a life spent outside in the world, where things are complex, confusing and messy.

Having chosen to feature a different guitarist on each track (including Brendan Gallagher from Karma County, Bruce Reid, who currently plays with Dragon, Shane O’Mara from Paul Kelly’s band, Daniel Champagne and more) combined with the timespan in which Eight Guitars was produced, Brown’s debut ran the risk of feeling like a collection of mish-mashed songs, plucked seemingly at random; operating as more of a mixtape than a fully formed, cohesive album. Yet, if you didn’t know the album had been written over two decades, it would be almost impossible to see Eight Guitars as anything other than an elegant body of work that flows seamlessly from top to bottom.

For fans of The Go-Betweens looking to recapture the nostalgia of 16 Lovers Lane, Brown’s debut effort may be a surprise. Eight Guitars veers away from bouncy indie pop found on The Streets Of Your Town and Was There Anything I Could Do?, instead drifting into slower, moodier and more considered territory. It’s a little less The Smiths and a little more Angel Olsen. It’s impeccable songwriting. And it’s worth a Sunday afternoon listen… or two.

Amanda Brown's debut album 'Eight Guitars' is out now. Click here to purchase.